What’s Next for Events?

Yes, it’s going to take time for the industry to recover fully, but there is activity happening and positive and forward-thinking discussions taking place that signify the resurgence of real-world experiences.

What was and What is

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Back in April, I said, “Wow, what a time to be in the events, travel and hospitality sector”. While that seems like a really long time ago now, and the events industry, collectively, has been dealt some incredibly hard blows since, this is a sentiment I still totally believe in.

Back when lockdown 1.0 came into force, I don’t think anyone, in our industry or beyond, could have anticipated the real impact of COVID-19 – how could they; 2020 and the global pandemic was unprecedented and has changed a lot.

The reality of the landscape we operate in as event professionals today is very different from how I thought it would be back in the early part of 2020. I knew digital experiences would be a long-term pivot, but there has been a far greater uptake and stronger acceptance of virtual events than I had ever expected.

With an ongoing appetite from corporates for digital events, it’s pretty clear from the demand that they’ll be a dominant part of event strategies in 2021 and utilised in conjunction with real-world events for a while, if not permanently.

While we’re rooting for the return of in-person events through hybrid formats this year, it’s understandable that those who hold budgets for event marketing are moving forward with events digitally. The fact that events can be delivered virtually so cost-effectively, while being able to attract 5-10 times more attendees, versus face-to-face events, is a huge advantage. Add to this that reduced global travel is helping to protect the environment and that digital events offer convenience for attendees, who can access content wherever they are in the world, and you can see why virtual experiences have made their mark.

It’s fair to say that 2020 has probably changed the way events will be delivered forever; we’ve gone too far from ‘what was’ to now ‘what is’. Companies that may have been waiting and holding out for live events to return are now looking ahead and realising that they need to take action to deliver their communication plans and keep their teams connected. Those that were trading off business relationships from 2019, need to incorporate activity to develop existing and new business. Whatever the objective, virtual events can enable those responsible for events to continue making event plans, despite what’s happening in the world.

Reframing the Rivalry: Virtual vs Live

Virtual and live event experiences have been pitted against each other for long enough – the time has come to reframe the rivalry. While I don’t think you’ll ever replace face-to-face events and their ability to manifest emotive moments that connect audiences in unforgettable experiences, virtual events have certainly earned their place at the table.

In a relatively short period of time, perceptions of virtual events have shifted. Instead of being seen in isolation as an alternative to in-person events, people are now learning and understanding the opportunities and possibilities of virtual experiences, and how they can sit in unison with physical events to build stronger, more diverse, and robust event marketing strategies.

However, with this continuing change in opinion, expectations for digitally hosted events will be higher. This year I believe we will see more focus on emerging technologies and how these can be applied to enhance both virtual and hybrid experiences. Corporates that have adopted virtual events already are more aware of what they can achieve in a digital space. Delivering ‘just okay’, mediocre experiences won’t cut it, people will want flexible virtual solutions that provide audiences with an opportunity to have more dynamic interactions with their brand.

As well as virtual events upping their game, there is no doubt that live event experiences will have to redefine their value proposition to attract audiences back through doors. There is an exciting opportunity here to use what has been learned over the last year to inform new and innovative approaches to live events.

The bottom line here is that when it comes to live and virtual events, it doesn’t have to be a one or the other scenario – in fact, in my opinion, transitioning to a dual strategy is a powerful way to future-proof event marketing efforts.

Hybrid Events: The Future

Even with a vaccine, we still don’t know when we will be able to get back out into the world, travel and attend live, physical events. While I’m optimistic about the year ahead of us, there is still a lot of uncertainty and I’m sure there will be initial nervousness about hosting real-world experiences: cue hybrid events.

There’s little doubt that hybrid events will be a crucial part of the future. Back in August our ‘Events Confidence Survey’, indicated that 80% of event organisers surveyed would include virtual and hybrid events in their ongoing communication plans.

This year, hybrid event formats will allow people to go to events in person while also enabling those who cannot attend physically to join virtually. However, to begin with, it’s reasonable to expect audience numbers within the live setting to be smaller than those accessing the same event online.

The key to success with the hybrid event medium will be the ability to design programmes that acknowledge the needs and wants of each audience segment and consider their respective journeys. The aim will be to build coordinated, seamless experiences that fuse together real-world and online event components for high-impact delivery.

I’m excited to see how hybrid events evolve over the coming years; this is really the time to reinvent experiences and to think of inventive ways to create invaluable interactions between businesses and their audiences.

Live Events: The Next Chapter

Yes, it’s going to take time for the industry to recover fully, and for face-to-face events to get back to where they were pre-pandemic, but there is activity happening and positive and forward-thinking discussions taking place that signify the resurgence of real-world experiences.

As hybrid events gain momentum, the next chapter of live events is also likely to include a phased return of smaller, boutique incentive-based events and exclusive C-level events planned for H2 2021. Bringing the live component back through experiences that are reduced in scale, but highly personalised, should help reposition how meaningful in-person connections can be made, re-establish confidence and, eventually, pave the way for larger events to return. Here and now, though, it’s about operating within relevant national and international guidelines and designing experiences that not only achieve goals but also mitigate risk for all.

Moving Forward

Although 2020 was undoubtedly a challenge, I’ve enjoyed watching the team thrive. Without undermining the struggles that all of us have faced, the past year has presented In2Events with new opportunities and we’ve seen growth on our client base. We’ve had the chance to explore new technologies and ideas with clients, and been involved with incredible projects, that pre-COVID wouldn’t have been required.

Of course, there have been difficulties, but overall it has been an exciting detour in the journey of the agency. We’ve evolved our offering, and due to many companies facing cuts in budgets and internal resource – a consequence of the pandemic – I would say that we have never been more in demand as event and marketing experts. We’ve also seen a huge increase in demand for our logistics services. In the last year, In2 has been able to demonstrate our value beyond live events and this is something we are committed to continuing.

In a year that will go down in history, transparent planning, quick but considered decision making, innovation, strong leadership, a team-focused mentality, and a positive mindset has been crucial to surviving, and these will be core ingredients to take forward for all of us, whatever area of business you’re in.

In all honesty, the strange and unexpected occurrences of 2020 have rejuvenated my passion for the business and industry that we’re in and I’m seriously looking forward to what’s next.

As we move forward into the new year, I hope we are all set on the road to recovery and that together we can start the rebuilding of the events industry and take it back to and beyond where it was BC (Before COVID).

We’re ready for you 2021: Let’s make it one to remember.

Gavin Farley, Managing Director